Fox snake is the common name given to two species of North American rat snakes. Neither is any threat to humans. Unfortunately, due to the striking resemblance to the Massasauga rattlesnake (which shares parts of its geographical range with the fox snake and is slightly venomous), it is killed by many people who mistake it for the Massasauga.

The eastern fox snake (Elaphe gloydi) is uncommon throughout its restricted range in Ontario, Michigan and Ohio where it is found only near Lakes Huron and Erie. The western fox snake (Elaphe vulpina) occurs in the open forests, prairies, and farmlands of western Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. Their ranges do not overlap.

Taxonomy Edit

Until recently the eastern and western fox snakes were considered to be subspecies of Elaphe vulpina, with the western fox snake being Elaphe vulpina vulpina and the eastern fox snake Elaphe vulpina gloydi.

Utiger et al. (2002) argued that North American Rat Snakes of the genus Elaphe are a monophyletic group and thus separate from Old World members of the genus. They therefore resurrected the available name Pantherophis Fitzinger for all North American taxa (north of Mexico).[1]

However, much controversy over the taxonomic suggestion surfaced and the International Committee for Zoological Nomenclature has not supported the change. In 2003, Crother et al. rejected the taxonomic change to Pantherophis, preferring to retain the current concept of Elaphe.[2]

File:Elaphe vulpina.jpg

Behavior Edit

Fox snakes are primarily diurnal and terrestrial, rodent feeding snakes. The western fox snake takes a range of suitably sized mammals including mice, rats and even small rabbits while the eastern fox snake specializes on meadow voles and takes other prey much less frequently. Birds and other animals are also occasional prey. Both kill their prey by constriction, though small prey may be eaten without constriction.

Fox snakes, like many other harmless snakes, sometimes mimic rattlesnakes by vibrating their tails. This defensive strategy backfired when humans began persecuting rattlesnakes and, with them, fox snakes. They are generally docile animals but may bite when molested. Their bite feels like very small needle punctures, but do not do any lasting damage. The bite is primarily used for holding purposes.

In the winter months fox snakes will hibernate, often congregating with other snakes, even those of other species, in suitable den sites.

Reproduction Edit

Mating occurs in the late spring and early summer months. A clutch averaging 15–20 eggs is laid in mid summer and normally hatches in early fall.

Conservation status Edit

The state of Michigan lists the eastern fox snake as threatened, largely due to habitat loss. In Ontario the eastern fox snake is listed as threatened and protected by the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The extent of their decline is currently the subject of study by biologists at Queen's University. The western fox snake is listed by the state of Missouri as endangered due to prairie loss and wetland drainage.

External links Edit


  1. Elaphe obsoleta at The Center for North American Herpetology. Accessed 20 June 2008.
  2. Crother BI, Boundy J, Campbell JA, De Quieroz K, Frost D, Green DM, Highton R, Iverson JB, McDiarmid RW, Meylan PA, Reeder TW, Seidel ME, Sites Jr JW, Tilley SG, Wake DB. 2003. Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico: Update. Herp. Rev. 34: 196-203. PDF at Southeastern Louisiana University. Accessed 11 December 2010.

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